Minnehaha Academy repeated as the Class 2A boys basketball state champion Saturday at Target Center, defeating Caledonia 73-60 in the title game. The Redhawks had a record of 26-5 last season and 28-4 this time around, but what happened in between those two sets of numbers was horrible, remarkable, and changed everything.
On the second day of August, Minnehaha Academy was rocked by a natural-gas explosion. Receptionist Ruth Berg, 47, and custodian John Carlson, 82, were killed and nine people were injured in the explosion on the schools’ upper campus in Minneapolis (the upper campus serves grades 9-12 and the lower campus, a mile and a half away, serves pre-kindergarten through eighth grade).
The buildings that were destroyed included the gymnasium. That left the school’s basketball teams without a home for the entire season. The Redhawks boys were the most well-traveled team in the Twin Cities, for games and practices.
They played “home” games at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan and Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul. One of their practice sites was the gymnasium at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station (connected to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport), where all the players and coaches had to go through a full military security clearance. There were bus rides and car pools to practices and games, often at odd hours. They had T-shirts made that read “No Gym. No Problem.”
“We had to sit around after school for about three hours (before practice),” Redhawks sophomore guard Jalen Suggs said after Saturday’s game. “We would group up and a lot of us would do homework. We’ve spent a lot more time together than we did last year, and you could tell, just by the way we played on the court. Everyone’s had each other’s backs since day one and it’s led to this moment.”
The explosion put basketball into perspective for everyone. Life is precious and basketball is a game.
“This is just basketball,” Suggs said. “There were people in the building that exploded who went through far, far worse than we did, just having late practices.”
Senior JaVonni Bickham said, “It’s bigger than just basketball, it’s bigger than all of us. We knew that and we just came out with everything we got for this season. We’re thankful that we got the chance to win the state championship for our community.”Hustle-Smile-Ruthless Is 1A Champ
When I gave the team from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton the nickname Hustle-Smile-Ruthless in the previous installment of John’s Journal, some witty folks from those little towns ran with it. There were three signs in the stands during the Class 1A championship game -- reading “Hustle” “Smile” and “Ruthless” – and they were held up as the R-T-R fans chanted those three words several times.
The Knights defeated North Woods 59-55 to capture their third title in six state appearances. North Woods has been to state twice – last year and this year – and has finished second both times.
After the game, someone texted me a photo of the R-T-R team posing with the three signs. I love small towns.Unseeded Delano Wins 3A Championship
On Feb. 8, the Delano basketball team had a record of 10-9. They ended the season with a record of 21-11 and owners of the Class 3A state championship. The Tigers defeated Columbia Heights 64-61 Saturday night to win their first title in three trips to state, the last one in 2013.
Their 11 defeats ties the tournament record for the most losses by a state champion. Austin Pacelli won the 1992 Class 1A title with 11 losses.Cretin-Derham Hall Is 4A Champion
In a game that can only be described as an instant classic, the basketball season closed with Cretin-Derham Hall claiming a 79-78 victory over Apple Valley in the 4A title game. Both teams shot better than 56 percent, with Apple Valley’s Tre Jones scoring a game-high 35 points in his final high school game.
It was Cretin-Derham Hall’s third state title and first since 1993, when current coach Jerry Kline Jr. was a team member. Tournament Tidbits
--At halftime of the Class 1A championship game, eight individuals were honored with awards by the MSHSL for their decades of service and commitment to officiating. Those honored with distinguished service awards were Becker’s Tracy Bertram, Jack Coombe of Tower, Tom Goetz from Bloomington, Bill Hafner of Maplewood, Roseville’s Roy Tutt, Jim Weinzierl from Park Rapids, Pat Whalen of New Brighton and Clark Worthington of St. Louis Park.
--At halftime of the Class 3A game, Bill Bentson of KFIL Radio in Preston and John Sherman of Sun Newspapers in the Twin Cities were honored as recipients of the 2018 MSHSL Outstanding Media Service Awards.Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams
Travis Visser, Hinckley-Finlayson; Noah DeLapaz, Cass Lake-Bena; Garrett Tjernagel, Baden Noennig, Mayer Lutheran; Westin Kirk, Garrett Kern, Carter Hansen, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton; Cade Goggleye, Trevor Morrison, Tate Olson, North Woods. Class 2A:
Quinn Fischer, Esko; Lu’cye Patterson, Brooklyn Center; Mitchell Plombon, Michael Schaefer, St. Cloud Cathedral; Martin Morem, Owen King, Noah King, Caledonia; Jalen Suggs, Terry Lockett, JaVonni Bickham, Minnehaha Academy. Class 3A:
Sam Vascellaro, St. Thomas Academy; Duoth Gach, Austin; Tyrell Terry, Gabe Kalscheur, DeLaSalle; Calvin Wishart, Derek Techam, Keegan O’Neill, Delano; Wendell Matthews, Quentin Hardrict, Deundra Roberson, Columbia Heights. Class 4A:
Zach Theisen, Osseo; Connor Christensen, Eden Prairie; Tyler Wall, Tommy Jensen, Lakeville North; Jacob Prince, Ryan Larson, Sy Chatman, Cretin-Derham Hall; Tre Jones, Luke Martens, Zach Korba, Apple Valley.Boys State Basketball Tournament
Fifth-place game: Hinckley-Finlayson 56, Rushford-Peterson 49
Third-place game: Mayer Lutheran 67, Cass Lake-Bena 51
Championship game: Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 59, North Woods 55Class 2A
Fifth-place game: Esko 57, Breckenridge 46
Third-place game: St. Cloud Cathedral 75, Brooklyn Center 70
Championship game: Minnehaha Academy 73, Caledonia 60Class 3A
Fifth-place game: St. Thomas Academy 68, Mankato East 62
Third-place game: DeLaSalle 82, Austin 61
Championship game: Delano 64, Columbia Heights 61Class 4A
Fifth-place game: Osseo 64, Forest Lake 61
Third-place game: Lakeville North 63, Eden Prairie 52
Championship game: Cretin-Derham Hall 79, Apple Valley 78Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn